Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow
by Tess Lynch
“I swallowed your extracellular junk!”
Blogger’s note: I just found my missing The Minders CD, Hooray For Tuesday, which Molly introduced me to in high school and which is, for no particular reason, one of my favorite winter albums. Because I love you, I will share it with you here. All Minders, all the time. You will enjoy.
I owe you all an apology. Here I was last week, telling you to pick an interesting way to die because I thought it was inevitable, and now it turns out it’s not. I can’t believe I was so blind; I’ve seen Vanilla Sky, I’ve read Tuck Everlasting, and still I had this stubborn belief that everyone got old and eventually bought the farm. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
“Hooray For Tuesday” — The Minders (mp3)
So then last night I was in bed, reading my copy of my favorite news magazine The Week, which is like a best-of news recap, and there was this article on Aubrey de Grey. Its headline was along the lines of, “LIVE FOREVER?!??!?!” or something, so my first reaction was “No you can’t! I just blogged two seconds ago about how you can’t!” and then I decided to read it to see if I could disprove his theory that humans alive today could live to be a thousand years old, because if I could (and if I’d been hip to his theory a little while ago), I could have won $20,000.
That would have been a mistake, however, because if the people at MIT were having a hard time disproving him, a person who never got past pre-calculus would just be making an ass of themselves. And once you concede that maybe this hairy gentleman is on to something, you might want to find out what the hell he’s talking about. I’ma break it down for you all.
Aubrey de Grey and The Methuselah Project
De Grey was a computer dude before he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Cambridge for his book, The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging. Basically, he argued that preventing cell damage from cellular “junk” could solve many of the conditions that lead to what we think of as aging. He claims that we really know all we need to to solve many of these conditions and slow the aging process, we just need the funding (don’t worry, people are helping him out with this).
De Grey also has authored a life extension proposal called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which identifies seven causes of aging and how to treat them and is summarized in his book Ending Aging. Right, blah blah blah, but this brings us to his non-profit, The Methuselah Foundation, which offers an MPrize to whatever research team can convince a mouse to live forever, or reverse its aging process.
So far, the winning mouse is 1819 days old, but there’s also mention of a 1551-day-old critter named Charlie who won the “reversal” prize, which is geared towards late-onset life extension and enhancement. Charlie didn’t get medicine in a traditional sense — he was just living super-luxuriously. That’s the kind of experiment all mice should want to be a part of.
I sleep in cashmere blankets, and then I eat them.
Yeah, But Is This A Good Idea?
Here is a list of projected arguments to life extension, and de Grey’s rebuttal. The most compelling, to me, is also the one de Grey calls the most “absurd”: the argument of “Isn’t the whole reason life is so wonderful, even when catastrophic things happen, because each day is one of so few? That you can remember so much of it, because it went by so fast?” I’m not saying this just because I read Tuck Everlasting; it would be great to experience more, but wouldn’t each experience mean less?
My man Aubrey, though, has an interesting point (and conundrum): if scientists can save lives, which he argues is the same as extending them, then aren’t they ethically bound to do so? And even more so if this were relatively easy to do? Maybe we’ve been too accepting for too long of something that we thought to be “natural,” when in fact the nature of medicine is to enhance (we hope) what our lives would be if they were truly natural. Or maybe we’re about to face a lifespan that is even more boring, more tedious, than our current lives sometimes seem.
“Pauline” — The Minders (mp3)
“Joey’s Pez” — The Minders (mp3)
Of course, part of the experiment relies upon slowing the physical signs of aging, which means that it’s not like you’d keep getting older and older and be a walking fossil (I know this seems obvious, but when I first read it I could immediately picture a 500-year-old couple, and they had peg-legs and 8 sets of eroded veneers and hair like a cross between Aubrey de Grey’s and the ugliest Simpsons character I’d ever ventured to come up with).
You could graduate from college, start a career, have it for 20 years, get bored, retire, and start a new career in something totally different after ten years of rest. Awesome or depressing? Awesome or depressing? No, seriously, awesome or depressing?
A 116-year-old woman in Ecuador
Another big issue is overpopulation, which is addressed by lots of laymen in the comments on this message board. Some dude is even like, “Hey, I’ve ALSO been working on slowing down aging! Once we do that, we’ll easily be able to move lots of people to Mars and start other inhabitable ecosystems on other planets.”
Someone else, perhaps a more grounded person, suggests that maybe living in a vastly overpopulated world would be terrible, and we’d be stuck here for so goddamn long that it would be like spending a thousand years in Grand Central Station, except the food court would close after the first 10 years. I made that analogy myself, but that was pretty much what he was saying. This gent named Zac says:
So, think about this question: HOW do you want to live? Do you want to die after living a life of abundance and quality, where resources are plentiful, as they are right now, where you can eat what you please, where there are places to see that have not yet been developed for housing or industrial farming? Or do you want to live and die in a world where food and resources are rationed because of the number of people, or in a world where the poor continue to starve and die at worse rates than ever in order that you may support your excessively long life? How do you want your life to look, you, in your greed and fear, who will live to be 1000?
Maybe I’ll just see you in another life, when we are both cats.
“Comfortably Tucked Up Inside” — The Minders (mp3)
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” — The Minders (mp3)
Aubrey “Gandalf” de Grey at 1,000 years old
“Our Man In Bombay” — The Minders (mp3)
“I’ve Been Wondering” — The Minders (mp3)
“More and More” — The Minders (mp3)
The hard part of staring a life ten times as long as we’re used to in the face is considering the problems that go with it. Dude, we’re so not ready to live to be a thousand; it’d be like getting married and having babies at eleven years old.
We can’t even design working public transportation for the city of Los Angeles! We can’t even build an awesome, environmentally safe house for less than like $1.3 million! That is way too much, I don’t care if they’re posh!
Imagine the lines at the grocery store during Thanksgiving. Imagine trying to get an iPhone. Imagine how many times you’d get food poisoning, and at the end of your life how many things you’d never be able to eat because 300 years ago you threw up for 11 hours straight? And those are moments you simply don’t forget. How about traffic? Oh my God, that would be miserable. At least now, we can throw up our hands when we’re eighty and say, “Well, nothing I can do. I’m like a dried-out leaf. I can stop worrying.” Imagine all the worrying about your life you’d do if it were that long. Ten times more horrible mistakes!
But also: ten times as many anniversaries, ten times as many birthdays. But then: ten times as many accidents, ten times as many embarrassing conversational flubs. Aren’t our psyches fragile enough? What would our self-esteem be like at 900?
Awesome or depressing? At least people still drink Coke.
“Pass It Around” — The Minders (mp3)
“Red Bus” — The Minders (mp3)
“Bubble” — The Minders (mp3)
“Frida” — The Minders (mp3)
Tess Lynch is the contributing editor to This Recording. Happy leftover day.
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